Protecting clean water in rivers and lakes across the country while ensuring stable supply of safe water for all is an important mission of the Government. In 2018, Korea has overhauled its national water management system that had fragmented responsibilities among ministries into an integrated structure with the Ministry of Environment as the single authority. The objective of the reform is to maximize the administrative efficiency in water management so as to ensure cost-effective, equitable, and sustainable use of the country’s limited water resources. According to the new Framework Act on Water Management, Korea will build a National Water Management Plan every ten years that defines policy goals and specific measures on comprehensive water issues including water quality, water resources, water disasters, conflicts, and water industry. The first National Water Management Plan will be formulated in 2020.
In 2004, Korea has introduced the Total Water Pollution Load Management System (TPLMS) at river basin level to protect and improve water quality of rivers across the country. The system sets water quality goals for each river basin, calculates the amount of pollutant discharges to meet the goals, allocate permissible discharges to each local government, and monitor the compliance based on which special measures including development restrictions are taken. In 2019, new water quality goals for four major river basins will be announced for the next phase TPLMS. Effluent discharged from industrial and wastewater treatment plants is managed with stringent standards for 51 parameters. Korea continues to strengthen the effluent management by adopting new parameters and expanding the application of the standards to protect clean river water and healthy ecosystems. In Korea’s four major rivers, 66.4% of pollution comes from diffuse sources other than the industrial and sewage effluent from point sources. Systematic approaches are taken to manage the nonpoint source (NPS) water pollution such as the designation of NPS Control Areas and the legal obligation to install pollution reduction facilities for large scale development projects.
Through decades of efforts to expand waterworks facilities and service network, 99.1% of the total population has access to water supply service in Korea, but there is still an urban-rural gap to be addressed. Korea’s investment in expanding water supply service now focuses on rural villages and other vulnerable areas. Meanwhile a nationwide initiative to upgrade old water pipes and infrastructure is underway. Korea’s national water grid is evolving towards higher stability, safety and efficiency by incorporating smart technologies such as automated water treatment and real-time measurement and analysis
Due to the impacts of climate change, Korea is experiencing increasingly intensive, concentrated and unpredictable rainfall patterns. Korea is working to optimize the national system to protect people from water-related disasters through making the best use of advanced technologies and information networks. For instance, the Flood Control Offices in the four major rivers collect hydro and meteorological information, analyze flood risks, produce forecast, and issue real-time flood warnings from 60 points nationwide.
Addressing the conflict between upstream and downstream reaches and between urban and rural areas has been a key concern in Korea’s water policies. Policy instruments to correct the inequity includes water use charges that is collected by downstream tap water users and spent for water quality improvement and welfares of upstream communities.